Remind me never to play Monopoly with Miranda Whitcomb Pontes. The way she has marched her local-food-vending business plan down 12th Avenue South, from Frothy Monkey coffeehouse to Burger Up restaurant, is a sure sign that her tiny silver roadster would run circles around my miniature thimble. Pontes' most recent addition to the 12South stretch of Nashville's Monopoly board came in February when she partnered with architect Nick Dryden to take over the location of the short-lived Green Light market. Dryden and Pontes worked their particular brand of green-design magic on the space, which now wears creamy white paint with accents of white tile and marble, metal piping, stainless steel and counters made of wood reclaimed from a bowling alley. Fresh citrus fruits fill wire baskets behind the sandwich counter, and rumpled canvas laundry bins hold supplies above the refrigerator case. On one wall hangs an assortment of clipboards with grocery lists — the wish lists of family, friends and neighbors whom Pontes surveyed about the items a neighborhood market should carry.
While LB's Market House isn't technically on the corner of 12th Avenue South and Paris — that address belongs to Burger Up — it does represent a cornering of the market. With the arrival of LB's, which offers a breakfast-and-lunch roster of sandwiches, pastries, salad bar and a handful of non-edible sundries, Pontes has something to offer for every meal of the day in the burgeoning 12South district. (If this were a real game of Monopoly, the third property would imply that Pontes & Co. were planning to open hotels next, but for her next act, Pontes has her eyes on a Cool Springs branch of the Burger Up franchise.)
Dan Latham, who formerly ran L & M's Kitchen and Salumeria in Oxford, Miss., has consulted in the early days, developing a tight menu that leans heavily on local pasture-raised pork and beef from Triple L Ranch in Williamson County, which is also served a few doors down at Burger Up. In this narrow shotgun space, whose spare kitchen runs on a low-temperature oven, a grill top and a panini press, chef Nate Smith oversees a menu that hugs tightly to slow-cooked pulled meats and sandwiches.
LB's offers three breakfast sandwiches (available all day), including a veggie version and a salty salute to bacon and eggs, with the smoky signature of Allan Benton's bacon from Madisonville, Tenn., and eggs from Willow Farms. (On one visit, we snagged a package of the hard-to-find bacon from the refrigerator, where it was sidled up to Kenny's Farmhouse cheeses and milk from Hatcher Dairy.)
For lunch, the range of panini and sandwiches includes beef-and-cheddar, chicken salad (in which the shredded meat far outweighs mayonnaise), and a patty melt made with the local grass-fed beef that has put Burger Up on recommendation lists in publications from
USA Today to Garden & Gun magazine. There's a daily soup in the pot and a frittata on display on the marble countertop. At the back of the room, a tightly edited salad bar holds a dozen ingredients such as walnuts, blue cheese, dried cranberries, broccoli, pink onion and sliced beets. Pulled meat can also be added to a salad.
In the afternoon, Smith takes stock of the ingredients on hand and designs a takeout meal based on what's available in the larder. On various visits to the refrigerator case, we stumbled across take-and-bake pizzas topped with vegetarian combinations as well as bacon-based medleys. We found a three-serving pan of spaghetti with house-made sausage and broccoli rabe; chicken pasta alfredo; a four-serving tray of grilled chicken; and various combinations of roasted vegetables.
Make no mistake, LB's is not the kind of place to browse the aisles to fill up a pantry or freezer. It's the kind of place that fills very specific short-term needs: dinner for tonight, ibuprofen and coffee beans for the morning, olive oil, tea, sodas, candy, toothbrushes and tampons. As of now, there's still no beer, but Russell O'Brien makes a tempting and ever-changing array of pastries — shortbread cookies, chocolate mayonnaise cake and rosemary wheat bread — which sit on the counter, as tantalizing as a bunch of steaming pies sitting on a windowsill.
Of O'Brien's confections, it was the pudding-soft cardamom cake infused with vanilla beans and topped with a light buttery frosting and candied orange peel that made us realize the glaring absence of coffee at LB's. Initial experiments with brewed coffee didn't go smoothly, so the caffeinated staple is only available in bean form. For a hot cuppa joe, you'll have to walk up the street to the coffeehouse component of Pontes' neighborhood empire. Of course, you can always get in the car and drive up the block. As in the game of Monopoly, 12South still has free parking.
LB's is open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.
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